Our last stop in Morocco was the clamorous and gaudy medina of Marrakech. Getting lost while trying to find our Hamam made it all the more worthwhile to have buckets of hot and cold water dumped on our heads. Our skin was baby-butt smooth after a young lady scrubbed off half an inch of skin with a scratchy black salt glove.
The touts were intense, the food deliciously flavored with spice and the show unending in the famous square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. Snake charmers, story tellers, musicians, and artisans are found here everyday, all day. You can peruse the food stalls proudly displaying their severed goat heads to tempt your palate.
Travel tip- if a lady grabs your arm and starts writing with a henna pen and tells you a ‘free gift’, just run. Unless you want to pay for henna, of course. I call this mark ‘The Tourist Stamp’.
Morocco’s first language is Arabic, the second is French. Cheers to a great adventure, a wonderful country full of curious and friendly people and delicious delectables. Shukraan and au revoir Morocco!
We drove our rental car into the desert. Travel tip- buy water, wine and beer in the town of Ouarzazate (literally the Moroccan Hollywood) on your way through because alcohol is almost impossible to find and you’ll be thirsty. Chapstick is a good thing too. Once you get close to the town of Merzouga any hotel will be offering overnight camel treks and even sunset only treks for the less adventurous. The dunes literally start outside the back door and often times there are camels waiting for the next trek right past the hotel pool.
Buffett dinners seem to be pretty common so expect tagine, vegetables and olives spread out for all. When it comes to your trek ask specific questions. For example, we asked ‘should we bring water?’. Yes, we’re each supposed to bring a bottle of water. ‘What kind of clothes?’. Warm clothes. It’s hot in the day but very cold at night in the desert. We didn’t think to ask ‘should we bring toilet paper?’ (there wasn’t any) or ‘should we bring a light?’ (luckily we had a headlamp and flashlight).
Our group consisted of our guide, Ian and I, a girl from Paris and three Moroccans. When we arrived to camp there was another camp helper who actually lives there. And some cats.
There were a couple snowboards available to go sandboarding which Ian tried successfully. I used it as a sled. Those dunes were steep!
Meknes is an hour away from Fez by bus and has a mellowed down vibe. You can visit the royal granary that was built by a sultan to stable and feed 12,000 horses. A short taxi ride away is the partially excavated Roman town of Volubilis, founded by Berbers in the 3rd century BC and grew to be the Roman capital of Mauritania in the 1st century AD.
We headed to the coast to enjoy fresh oysters in the quiet village of Oualidia and rented a quad to explore the natural lava caves on the beach. You can buy oysters right in the street from peddlers riding bicycles with baskets of oysters and lemons strapped to the handlebars.
Next was the larger seaport town of Essaouira with it’s ramparts, medina, long stretches of beaches and lots of wind surfers in the summertime. I thought the water was too cold in November but Ian did some body surfing.
We decided to head inland and rented a car in Marrakesh. A decent deal at $300 for 8 days. Getting out of the city was hectic with the horsedrawn buggies, scooters and drivers in every lane but we made it. A night plus another day of driving got us all the way to the famous fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou. Plenty of movies have been shot here including Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia and parts of Game of Thrones.
It feels like a trip back in time once you walk through one of the dramatic gates of the ancient medina of Fez. The medina is one of the oldest and largest walled cities in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Within its labyrinth of alleyways you pass donkeys carrying fresh fruit, barrels of spice, and artisans practicing ancient trades.
Getting a view overlooking the tanneries is an enlightening experience. Your guide begins by handing you a sprig of fresh mint to hold over your nose to help with the smell. Once you’re on the terrace above he explains how the skins are prepared with pigeon droppings and cow urine. The many vats of colored dyes are all vegetable based and men are waist deep stomping on the skins.
Make sure you enter the medina with plenty of time because it’s easy to get lost. Also be aware the pressure is high for you to buy something from all the vendors but a smile and repeating ‘non merci’ (no thank you) will get you by.
There are other sites to see outside of the medina, which makes Fez worth a several day visit. Bring your Imodium, patience and a good heart and enjoy a taste of ancient history alive before your eyes.
We landed in Africa after taking the ferry from Tarifa Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. A handy travel tip is to get to the ferry early and get in line to go through Moroccan immigration while on board. If you’re in line early enough you can enjoy the rest of the ride and just show your stamped passport when you arrive in Tangier. We had a quick snack that included avocado milk (not recommended, avocados don’t have teats) then took a comfortable bus to the quaint town of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains. Also known as The Blue Pearl, this town has winding streets painted in every shade of pale blue that look purple at night.
It’s very easy to get lost in the winding streets that all start to look the same. In the ‘new town’ a short walk downhill you can find some interesting stores selling the freshest chicken, these girls are still clucking!
Moroccans love their tagine, slow cooked meat and vegetables in a pottery dish that is full of flavor and can arrive bubbling hot. We tried several varieties including lamb, beef and chicken. Yum!